The banner unfurled by Hull City fans proclaiming they are ‘Supporters not customers‘ says something very important about one of marketing management’s most cherished metaphors. The customer.
Ever since Kotler (1999) suggested that marketing principles apply in each and every aspect of organisational life; commercial, public and third sectors, we have been told that we are all customers now .(cf (Hackley ‘We Are All Customers Now…’ Rhetorical Strategy and Ideological Control in Marketing Management Texts. Journal of Management Studies 40:5 July 2003)
Casting people as customers and participating in the discourse of customer centricity has real world consequences however. Call supporters ‘customers’ and your next step is to create a ‘customer base’. The next step is to appropriate/extract value from that customer base. The customer is a resource to be exploited despite the relational and appreciative rhetoric that companies so often use.
As Gummesson (2008 ) in Customer centricity: reality or a wild goose chase?, European Business Review, Vol. 20 No. 4,p. 315-30. points out though. Privileging the interests of one stake holder group (the soccer club in this example) is increasingly mistaken.
So perhaps we may all soon be called passengers, patients and students again and be treated accordingly rather than as mere customers.